Many of us are looking for ways to calm down and tune out negative thoughts and dark moods. Exercise is one way to lift your spirits and clear your head. Listening to music you enjoy or spending time in nature can help, too. But what about doing nothing, absolutely nothing, for just a few minutes to feel better?
Mindfulness, a meditative practice that asks us to live in the moment and focus all attention on the present, is getting lots of attention as a way to reduce stress and depression. It may also be helpful for physical problems like pain management, and has been shown to positively impact elevated heart rate, even well after an active session.
Responsibilities of work, caregiving, and other commitments often keep us jumping from one thought to the next and next, with no real focus on any one task or feeling. Watching or reading too much negative news or spending a lot of time on social media can cause us to worry about what’s coming next. Mindfulness encourages us to slow down and connect to our thoughts in the current moment rather than project into the future.
Mindfulness sessions may include some form of meditation and a “body scan” or progressive muscle relaxation. While many devotees recommend committing 20 to 30 minutes to your practice and assuming a specific body position like kneeling or sitting with legs folded, some mindfulness coaches are less stringent – especially for people who are just getting started. Don’t worry about your posture, or if your practicing long enough. Keep an open mind and be optimistic about the outcome.
You won’t need any special equipment. Just find a quiet, comfortable place where you can relax. Give yourself enough time to try the process without rushing.
Practicing mindfulness throughout the day, whenever you can, will help too. Here are some easy ways to make mindfulness part of everyday living.
Get Help from an App
Many fitness apps include guided deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness sessions in 2- to 5-minute increments to get you started. There are also several online apps you can try for free that focus solely on mindfulness and meditation.
Begin Each Day with a Mindful Moment
Before you get out of bed, take a few minutes to breathe deeply, stretch gently, and ease into the new day. Find your center and focus your thoughts before your feet touch the floor.
Make the Most of Your Day
Be mindful about how you spend your time each day. Prioritizing just a few things to do or accomplish can help you focus on the task at hand, rather than reacting and moving mindlessly from one thing to the next.
Be Mindful at Mealtime
Take your time when preparing meals, and enjoy the process of creating something delicious. When eating, focus on how your food looks and tastes, and savor every bite. You may find yourself eating less when you eat more slowly.
Take Inventory of the Good in Your Life
So often we get caught up in negative thinking and focusing on what’s going wrong in our lives and the world at large. Turn that thinking on its head and instead, focus on something positive. Nature can provide lots of little reasons to be more at peace. Be grateful for a sunny sky, a fresh breeze, for bird song or a gentle rain, and focus on the good feelings they provide.
When given an opportunity to listen to a friend, neighbor, family member or anyone who needs to talk, listen without thinking about your reply. Focus your full attention on the speaker, paying special attention to their mood and emotion. If they ask your opinion or for help, by all means, give it. But make mindful listening your priority in that moment.
Devoting time to some sort of exercise or physical activity each day gives you an opportunity to listen to your body, recognize if one part or another needs special attention, and to act on your discovery. It’s easy to ignore physical complaints when we’re busy, and just as easy to give in to them and do nothing when we feel overwhelmed.
Take a few minutes each day to think about your life’s purpose and your accomplishments. Nothing is out of bounds to consider here. Think about the family you raised, or the home you keep, the children you taught, or the worship community you support and celebrate. Be proud of what you’ve done, and reflect on what you’d still like to do.
Being mindful throughout the day, thoughtful about how you spend your time, and careful about what you eat, drink and do before bed can set you up for a better night’s sleep. Develop a pre-sleep routine that includes some form of reflection like journaling. Listen to soothing music to help you wind down. Turn off the tv and put your phone out of reach at least an hour before bedtime. Getting good sleep each night can help you make the most of each day.
Finally, these four steps, suggested by Mindful.org are the basis of any mindfulness practice.
“Observe the present moment as it is.” Your only goal is to pay attention to the present moment without judging how you feel. Keeping judgmental self-talk at bay is probably the most challenging aspect of mindfulness, but it can be done.
“Let your judgments roll by.” If and when you notice judgmental thoughts bubbling up, it’s OK to acknowledge them, but let them pass.
“Return to observing the present moment.” If you find yourself “thinking” rather than “being,” try again to return to the present moment. You will likely have to do this over and over again throughout your session.
“Be kind to your wandering mind.” Try not to judge yourself for the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that surface during a mindfulness session. Recognize when your mind begins to wander, and guide it back to the present moment.
If the steps above sound similar or repetitive, it’s because the concept of mindfulness is simple. The practice of mindfulness is less so. It will take time to train your mind to stay in the moment. Consistent, constant practice will help you master the mindfulness technique and realize the many health benefits it offers.